Barnes & Nobles closings leave Queens literary community in limbo

By Gabriel Rom

As Barnes & Noble closes its last two Queens locations, leaving Forest Hills without a bookstore and Bayside with just one, many in the borough’s literary community worry over what, if anything, will take their place.

“For them to be gone is just very shocking,” said Nina Cassius, assistant manager at Turn the Page Again bookstore on Bell Boulevard in Bayside. “All I can wonder is who is going to fill the void?”

The stores, many said, were some of the last remaining centers of literary life in Queens.

“If Barnes & Noble does not reopen shortly, it will leave a tremendous gap—a void in the Forest Hills literary community,” said Michael Perlman, an author and community activist. “We will lose a major destination, one that has been an integral aspect of our daily lives and has enhanced our quality of life.”

The slumping retail giant recently reported a decline in sales for the fifth consecutive quarter, which explained in part the decision to shutter the Queens stores.

But amid the concern, some see a window, however small, for a literary rebirth in Queens.

“This presents an opportunity,” said Johanne Civil, executive director of the Queens Book Festival. “Whether a conglomerate or a small independent, it’s always a loss when a bookstore in a community closes. But once that door closes, the leaders within the community should step up in either supporting a nonprofit that wants to open or an entrepreneur that wants to open a shop but lacks financial means.”

Civil pointed to The Astoria Bookshop as a successful model that she hopes entrepreneurs in Forest Hills, Bayside and throughout Queens will take close notice of.

“They have the right formula,” she said. “You can’t just be a bookstore. You have to be a community center.”

In Brooklyn and Manhattan, independent bookstores have enjoyed a renaissance over the past decade, but the trend has yet to carry over to Queens.

“Queens is on the map in so many areas, from real estate to food, but we aren’t yet known for our literary scene,” Civil explained.

Megan Abbott, a bestselling author and Forest Hills resident, sees writers increasingly moving to Queens to escape the high cost of living in neighboring boroughs.

“This is the moment. I’m hoping that new opportunities will arise, and we’ll get the type of warm, intimate bookstores that you see in Brooklyn and Manhattan,” Abbott said. , “We don’t have to convince people that there’s a value to reading–I think they already know it here in Forest Hills, so if a few independent stores open, it could really coalesce the community.”

Lexi Beach, who opened The Astoria Bookshop in 2013, sees an unmet demand in Queens not only for places to buy books but for places for book lovers to congregate.

“The fact that I’m one of only a few independent bookstores in Queens is preposterous,” Beach said. “I’ve got people coming into this bookstore from all around the borough. I’ve had a number of friends ask me if I’m planning to expand, and the answer is no, but I certainly hope that somebody else will.”

“We’re all doing pretty well,” Beach added. “Come on, join the club.”

Reach reporter Gabriel Rom by e-mail at grom@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4564.

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